Musings of a Mark: WWE 2006 Quarter 1 Retrospective
It’s time to kick off a new project for ?Musings?.
World Wrestling Entertainment’s 2005 is done and dusted. I can?t think of anything missed over the last couple of months, so now attention has been swivelled to 2006. This ?project? will have a different approach than my journey through 2005; instead of dedicating columns to prominent feuds, or simply providing extensive reviews of certain matches, I?m going to try and ascertain the best coverage of the twelve months possible.
That means searching the vast expanses of cyberspace for even the most obscure matches from weekly television episodes, in addition to the obvious inclusion of pay-per-view events. Obviously I won?t find EVERYTHING. This edition alone suffered from unfindable matches, some of which looked promising on paper. Shame, but that’s life. Each fortnight I?ll attempt to provide a collection of reviews for performances located within each quarter of the year. This edition, for example, relates to 2006’s first quarter, otherwise affectionately known as the ?road to Wrestlemania?. Next edition will try and look at the months of April (including Wrestlemania 22), May and June. And so on and so forth.
What gets included in these editions of ?Musings?? As some of you may already have noted, the reviews inside this edition are quite a diverse and eclectic bunch. Basically anything and everything (that I could find) that, to some degree, caught my eye will be discussed. Even if some of the matches that disappointed me are well-known and hyped, they won?t appear here. I like to keep things positive, see?
Here’s the thing though… If you believe there’s a match that SHOULD?VE been covered here, whether I?ve overlooked it or couldn?t find it or simply forgot, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org (with a link to the match just in case, especially if it’s a television match) and I?ll chuck in a review of it next ?Musings? regardless of my response to it. There?ll be a few matches from these months covered already in the next one, as I left working on the piece too late to comment on the No Way Out pay-per-view (which has a superb Orton ? Mysterio bout for the record, not to mention Undertaker ? Kurt Angle), so don?t be afraid to disrupt the themes / boundaries of each respective ?Musings?. Have your voices heard!
Anyway, simply put, SmackDown was spectacular in the lead-up to the year’s biggest event. There’s a load of quality television matches to be enjoyed from the Blue Brand, which has me thinking maybe 2006 wasn?t AS lacklustre as I remember. RAW was still bland, but had its moments. But why do you need me to tell you this? Read on and enjoy!
Kid Kash vs. Juventud, WWE Cruiserweight Championship ? WWE SmackDown 01.06.06
Juventud’s selling was the pleasant surprise here. Not in terms of it being magnificent acting, rather just the fact that he bothered leads me to praise this performance. He ?injures? himself whilst performing a risky move on the outside, which Kid Kash exploits with some leg work soon after. After every exchange following, Juventud grabs his leg and/or collapses to the ground or can?t even complete a move due to it. There’s no unaffected running about like you?d normally see in TNA, ROH or anything resembling the Junior style these days; Guerrera either hits offense via countering (followed by immediately clutching at his knee) or Kash is already in position, such as on the turnbuckle. As such, due to the sustained selling and nature of offense post-injury, Juventud builds the pain as convincingly troublesome throughout and thus it becomes a believable factor in his ultimate defeat.
Due to this consistent selling the match never feels like a scramble to throw in as many flashy moves within five minutes as possible, and actually connects what is performed along a thread that tells a neat little story. Kudos!
Trish Stratus vs. Mickie James, WWE Women’s Championship ? WWE New Year’s Revolution 01.08.06
In comparison to the much-praised sequel, the original Stratus / James clash is somewhat overlooked. Unfairly so, I might add. What’s immediately intriguing is how both performers sustain a level of ambiguity in regards to James? motives. Her confused / slightly hurt expression following Trish’s mid-handshake confrontation conveys the impression that Mickie may just well be an overly-excited fan. Again, there’s no hint of betrayal evident in James? body language as she allows the champion back through the ropes, though Trish remains weary. This good-natured construction of Mickie James is tested, however, when she retrieves the belt and seemingly brandishes it as a potential weapon, only to choose against it.
Besides this relationship dynamic, the match itself packs some punch … literally! The women interject a substantial increase in pace once Trish is free to re-enter the ring, starting with a hard shoulder-block from Mickie. It communicates the point that their ?friendship? has taken a back seat to championship competitiveness. The subsequent strikes are superbly sold, drawing notable gasps from the crowd and causing Joey Styles to label the performance ?the hardest hitting women’s match ever?. I watched the Lawler / Mantell series from Memphis in ?82 earlier in the same day, and I still was impressed by the quality of strikes these women delivered. For the few minutes they were allowed, Trish Stratus and Mickie James still managed to build a satisfying match that furthered the story that ultimately culminated at ?Mania.
NB: Don?t for a second think I was suggesting this clash was as good as any Lawler / Mantell performance. It isn?t. But it is still good. Just making sure!
Big Show vs. Triple H ? WWE New Year’s Revolution 01.08.06
So despite it featuring heavily in the build, Big Show’s cast doesn?t achieve much in the match. After a few opening moments of ducking and bumping, momentum shifts strongly to The Game as his opponent accidently belts the ring-post. This is when things get interesting.
Between Show’s agonised cries and Triple H’s deliberate, focused assault on the now vulnerable right hand, the performance hits a new stride. Maybe not in increased pacing, but in carefully performed moments that not only hammer home the ruthless calculation of the Cerebral Assassin ? the individual twisting of the broken fingers, not to mention anything involving the post, steps or steel chair in particular ? but also the rarely tested endurance and ?heart? of the 500 Pounder, a product of the finely executed portrayal of (sometimes teary!) anguish. The amount of torture Show sustains, combined with moments of sacrifice (the side-walk slam, the breaking of the sledgehammer etc.), posits him as tough in defeat, regardless of being largely dominated. In terms of selling pain, I?ve never seen Big Show better (not that he really needs to normally), especially as a sympathetic babyface, which lends itself to a satisfying showing with a remorseless, relentless heel in Triple H.
Randy Orton vs. Chris Benoit, WWE United States Championship ? WWE SmackDown 01.13.06
Part of me actually enjoys this more than their clash at 2004’s Summerslam. As this was one of only two matches for this episode (the other being the Battle Royale for Batista’s vacated World Championship), it has quite a lengthy running time by television standards. Due to this both performers take time to emphasise lesser components of the performance, such as the struggle to latch on holds and basic strikes. At points I felt as though I was watching a less-stiff version of BATTLarts, or even Benoit and Orton’s take on Tsuruta / Funk. And that can?t possibly be a bad thing!
Interestingly this longer attention paid to the struggle and presence of rest-holds, without losing the crowd’s investment, makes the sudden occurrence of strikes and moves seem more impactful. For example the very first Benoit chop works to jolt the viewer into gear with its harsh, loud slap drawing a collective gasp from the crowd and jarring with the mostly impact-less moments beforehand. Don?t get the impression that I?m saying the long hold sequences are a bore, and that the moves are a wake-up call. Whilst the harder hitting stuff definitely has an awakening quality, the struggle and interchange in holds between Benoit and Orton features some engrossing portrayals of selling. It serves to heighten the degree of ?challenge? offered by each combatant and, I?d argue, makes the contest feel as important as the commentators claim. They don?t want to rush into nailing their signature spots, as a mistake can bring it all crashing down.
The match builds from these prolonged ?feeling-out? sequences in any case, gradually intensifying until Benoit is whipping out the triple suplex ?bombs? and missing flying head-butts. By the performance’s conclusion, everything has increased in dramatic quality by tenfold with near misses, false submissions and interference. So it picks up in a significant sense for those who aren?t as intrigued by stressed, drawn out and well sold chain wrestling. Another cool aspect is how the Crippler Crossface is convincingly established as a killer move. From the way Chris Benoit progressively comes closer to locking it in properly, to Orton’s visible desperation in avoiding it, to the gradual work done on Randy’s shoulder and how he steadily conveys greater degrees of injury caused to it as the match goes on ? moving from niggling pain to arriving at almost dead useless ? it sets up that final point where Benoit has it attached FINALLY, creating a great buzz from the crowd, only for the referee to not see the submission.
Check this one out guys, it’s a forgotten goodie!
Rey Mysterio vs. Mark Henry, World Heavyweight Championship #1 Contender ? WWE SmackDown 01.20.06
The interplay between Rey’s high-flying shenanigans and Henry’s almost literal immovability gives rise to an extremely fun match. Mysterio does a superb job in constructing the sheer presence of Mark Henry. Not simply through bumping to highlight his strength, but also in building the difficult task in merely toppling the beast. Moments like when a suicide dive straight into the World’s Strongest Man only brings him down to one knee, or having to ?chop? him down via multiple 619s from both sides of the ring operate to believably establish this monstrous characterisation. Even smaller things like Rey’s nervous hopping, muttering under his breath with eyes fixed on the sky as Mark Henry makes his ominous arrival add to this impressive character construction.
That’s not to say it’s all Mark Henry. They do a great job in allowing Rey enough offense to tease an unlikely upset without compromising the effort placed in developing Henry’s strength and endurance. In fact it contributes to it, as he eats several 619s and a Frog Splash only to roll through the pin attempt and nail a World’s Strongest Slam. Considering how he was portrayed throughout the performance, even that moment is acceptable and also positions the loser as simply outmatched as opposed to squashed.
Rey Mysterio vs. Mark Henry ? WWE SmackDown 01.27.06
The themes of ?urgency? and ?necessary risk-taking? return, but with some entertaining new developments on what were presented a week earlier. Firstly Mark Henry is fleshed out in a more ominous manner, taking glee in punishing his opponent further by refusing to pin Mysterio. Secondly there’s a new plot that witnesses Rey attempt to out-think and surprise the larger man, leading to an effective sequence of offense that hints at an upset but ultimately contributes once again to cementing Mark Henry as a legitimate main-event presence. From these two matches with Rey Mysterio at the very least, I think they succeed in that respect in the build towards his clash with Kurt Angle at the Rumble. So just as good as the original, only with a few twists implemented to avoid an annoying d?j? vu sensation.
Johnny Nitro / Joey Mercury vs. Super Crazy / Psicosis, WWE Tag Team Championship ? WWE SmackDown 02.03.06
In all honesty this doesn?t do anything remarkable different from any other tag. It’s just each component ? from the stooging of Nitro and Mercury early on, to the ?face-in-peril? sequence (which was transitioned nicely into) possessing one or two well-teased hot tags, to the actual hot tag allowing Super Crazy to do what he does best e.g. flipping flying loco stuff, to the drama involving Melina and her ?hurt? ankle (hinted at during her entrance) that ultimately sets up the screw job finish ? is strongly executed, and is responded to perfectly by an engaged crowd. Just a really fun tag match from SmackDown.
Edge / Lita vs. John Cena / Maria ? WWE RAW 02.06.06
I told you some of these matches could seem random!
What’s appealing about this television contest is its concise, neatly constructed manner in telling its story. Cena’s been teamed with an inexperienced partner, and so he needs to arrive swinging and hope to achieve victory in short fashion. Edge and Lita, on the other hand, want to exploit Maria’s presence. And so, after thirty odd seconds of being tossed around by John Cena, Edge manipulates his rival into running into the turnbuckle post. After physically forcing Maria to tag in ? whose shrieks only make the exchange’s meaning more foreboding – Edge finishes Cena off for the time being. Then the match gets a whole lot interesting.
Contrary to expectation Maria’s involvement in the ring doesn?t suck. The wide-eyed pleading before being tossed in by Lita and the feeble crawling whilst being taunted by her nemesis makes for an effective sympathetic figure. It helps that Edge and Lita deliver strongly in their bullying roles. Edge getting right up in Maria’s face, mocking her choking as Lita strangles her against the ropes is, in particular, quite awesome. And funny, but that’s because I?m an asshole. But Cena returns in time for one last desperate tag and proceeds to take care of the Rated R Superstar.
At this point the tale inverts itself, as Lita now stands alone having to face the WWE Champion. So as to avoid being somewhat dubiously characterised, John Cena doesn?t actually lay a finger on the woman (or fall for her flashing!) but rather Edge receives his cynical cowardice comeuppance by accidently hitting her with a Spear. Maria tagging herself in to take the pin is meant to be viewed as a feel good moment ? Cena’s expressions certainly help to construct it as such ? but really it’s the antics of Edge and Lita, both in control and not, that makes this five minute performance a short and fun guilty pleasure.
Johnny Nitro / Joey Mercury vs. Paul London / Brian Kendrick ? WWE SmackDown 02.10.06
Like the earlier match with the Mexicools, the staple components of the WWE tag team performance are accounted for and performed quite well. In particular Kendrick’s selling makes him an effective sympathetic figure throughout the ?face-in-peril? sequence. Moreover MNM, including Melina, flourish in their sneaky heel roles as per the norm. However what this has over MNM / Mexicools is a variety of convincing near-falls that grabbed the crowd and got them behind the debuting team of London and Kendrick. As the purpose was to introduce this tandem, I?d consider it a resounding success in that respect. Meanwhile MNM prove once again they were a highly underrated tag-team from the middle of this decade.
Big Show vs. Rob Van Dam vs. Triple H, WWE Championship #1 Contender Tournament Final ? WWE RAW 02.20.06
Approximately twenty times better than Rey Mysterio / Kurt Angle / Randy Orton, this television main-event achieves its quality by building everything around Big Show, his powerful presence and temporary absence. This not only makes Big Show himself more interesting, but also allows for a series of interchanged relationships that, combined, make the match seem as significant as the commentators claim.
What do I mean? Firstly, we have the Big Show / Triple H rivalry that spills over into the opening quarter of the performance. This relegates Rob Van Dam to being a ?pest?, a ?third wheel? akin to Chris Benoit at Wrestlemania XX trying hard to become a factor in the match. All this achieves however, is an annoyed Big Show who swats the little insect away before returning to pounding The Game. It soon becomes clear to Van Dam and Triple H that a tenuous alliance needs to be formed to rid them of this massive problem. Those aware of the history between these two would recognise how much of a strain that forced teamwork is. Big Show endures a substantial amount of offense until finally, FINALLY, he’s knocked off his feet and slumps to the ringside area. The effect this has on Triple H and Rob Van Dam is clearly visible immediately, as both turn to take advantage of this temporary relief. Their rejuvenated movements highlight the significance of winning this main-event, as they NEED to take swift advantage of this chance before Show re-enters the contest.
But as Big Show returns, the match throws a curveball, and it’s HIM that’s dominated. And believably so, I?d venture to say. Now Big Show can?t seem to ascertain dominance and succumbs to a range of onslaught that ultimately sees him eat both finishers to wipe him out of contention. In all the dramatic false finishes (there are several, all which are executed extremely well, adding magnificently to the ?importance? of emerging victorious here), the scramble to capitalise on ALL the work put into eliminating the Big Show, the tactician Triple H realises first the chance he has at nabbing RVD unawares, and does so. The end result may have been predictable, but through the match itself the crowd still gets whipped into a frenzy and all three performers manage to craft a fun story building anticipation, and a feeling of ?importance? for, Wrestlemania 22.
Chris Benoit / Rey Mysterio / Bobby Lashley vs. JBL / Randy Orton / Finlay ? WWE SmackDown 02.24.06
Along the ?Road to Wrestlemania? in 2006, SmackDown put together a few really fun tags that wove several feuds into one performance. Mysterio ? Angle / Orton ? Henry (the first one), MNM ? Mark Henry / Orton ? Angle ? Mysterio and Undertaker ? Angle / MNM ? Henry were all good, but ultimately let down by Kurt’s weird obsession with blowing through his finishers upon entering the ring. The match involving Orton and Mysterio on opposite sides remains worthwhile if you are interested. Here though there’s no Angle, and ultimately I think it benefits from that. Everything is tense between the two teams, and each respective feud (Orton / Mysterio, Lashley / Finlay, Benoit / JBL) is given ample time in the spotlight and is developed further throughout. It’s cool to watch order implode more than once as the heat intensifies between the protagonists and their antagonists. Really, just everything you?d want from such a match, with the only weak part being Benoit and Lashley’s flat dominance of JBL upon returning from the first commercial break. Nothing that drastically detracts from the performance however.
Rey Mysterio vs. Kurt Angle ? WWE Smackdown 03.31.06
This perfectly decent television match leading into Wrestlemania 22 isn?t close to being as good as their Summerslam 2002 encounter. I wish to avoid giving off such an impression immediately. What I found refreshing, having just been through most of 2005, is Angle’s sensible pacing and intelligent use of moves ? there’s no Ankle Lock whoring here! Or random Angle Slamming for that matter. He conforms to the role of grounding Mysterio, opting to utilise numerous rest-holds that build the crowd’s anticipation for the swift spurts of energy Rey injects into the match via aerial assaults. When Angle does deliver one of his ?bombs? it’s usually to cut off a fight-back sequence, which generally serves to make it seem more impactful by silencing the crowd. For example, Kurt snatching a running Rey into an overhead belly-to-belly slam draws a collective gasp / groan from the audience, making the exchange’s effect seem greater than when casually hit amidst a control segment. A ?buzz killer? if you will, but in a good way.
As a result of the decent pacing, and an actual mind to sell, the performance feels more like a main-event broadcasted by World Wrestling Entertainment, as opposed to the atrocious backyard trampoline matches posted all over YouTube… Angle’s control segments, whilst remaining dominant (which, mind you, is believable), never seems to drag with well-spaced fight-backs by Rey maintaining a grip on the crowd’s attention. Mysterio hits enough offense to avoid being ‘squashed?, even despite ultimately losing and submitting rather quickly. The commentators make point of both combatants wishing to avoid injury in the lead-up to Wrestlemania, so Rey’s unhesitant tapping to an Ankle Lock (of the grapevine variety) is understandable and not particularly harmful to his ?credibility?. Overall a good match that works its dynamic well, that which unfortunately exceeds the quality of the World Heavyweight Championship bout it’s designed to build towards…
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I apologise for not having the time to review Orton / Mysterio, Undertaker / Angle or Benoit / Orton (No Holds Barred) in this piece. Each is certainly worth a look into, and shall be discussed in the next ?Musings?.
Until then, don?t forget to chuck an email my way with any review requests or arguments for or against anything I?ve said here. I?m interested to know your thoughts, so by all means bog down my inbox!